Did a psychological profile go too far?

Did a psychological profile go too far? Via the Associated Press, 6 April:

His life a shambles after he was sent to prison for murder, then set free with new evidence, Timothy Masters paused to reflect on the calamitous series of events that brought him to ruin’s precipice. Almost 21 years passed before DNA evidence proved what he’d been saying all along: He is no killer. He was just a teenage boy with a hobby of drawing gruesome pictures. His sketches of shootings, stabbings, explosions, torture were used as evidence to convict him of killing an aspiring writer in 1987, a conviction that was ultimately overturned.

But the prosecution of Masters raises troubling questions, primarily because it pivoted on the controversial opinions of a board certified forensic psychologist who analyzed the sketches and concluded Masters was guilty. He was convicted without a single shred of direct physical evidence or witnesses.

Karen Franklin has blogged extensively on this case, and her thoughtful and informative posts are well worth a read if you are interested in a case study of profiling-gone-very-wrong. There are links to other press coverage and Karen has uploaded the transcript of forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy’s testimony in this case (access here – pdf). The easiest way to access these is to select the ‘profiling’ tag in her blog – the most recent six posts in this category are about the Masters case. Aspiring profilers: watch and learn.

2 thoughts on “Did a psychological profile go too far?”

  1. I’ve been troubled by this case ever since seeing it summarized on “Cold Case Files.” There simply was not enough evidence. I drew explicit and
    violent pictures as a kid too. In our society there’s more than enough
    fuel to that interest or fascination – movies, music (this kid was obviously into metal,) etc. Also, the key pictuire they were stressing the signifigance of on the show was a knife tearing down, obviously drawn to appear three-dimensionally ripping the paper. They insisted that was a vagina it was tearing into, and that it matched one of the victim’s injuries… very shady.

  2. I think that drawing pictures like that as a teenager is a lot more troublesome than doing it as a child.
    However, a case should not depend on psychological profiling alone; it should be based on ALL of the evidence (physical and psychological).

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